Obstreperous

Seagull

The living embodiment of obstreperousness?

Obstreperous is one of my mum’s favourite words (I am presuming this because of the frequency with which she uses it). She often, however, uses the humorous form obstropolous which most sources list as a regional variation, but its use seems fairly widespread.

Obstreperous means noisy, difficult to control, unruly, bad-tempered or argumentative. (It is often suggested that stroppy came into usage as a slightly altered abbreviation of obstreperous.)

It was first used in the late 16th century and stems from the Latin word obstreperus ‘clamorous’ which is itself from obstrepere ‘to make a noise against’ or ‘oppose noisily’.

You can use obstreperously as an adverb and obstreperousness as a noun.

“Thou abominable obstreperous Scoundrel, why dost thou clamour at us, that do thee no wrong?”

– Plutus: or, The world’s idol. A comedy, translated by Lewis Theobald, 1715


Sources:

Anfractuous

RocksThis week’s interesting word is anfractuous. It is rare to see it in use, but I think it has a good sound and is fairly evocative.

Anfractuous means winding, sinuous, circuitous or spiral. It can also mean rugged or craggy and fractious or irritable.

Its origin is thought to be late 16th century, from the Latin word anfractus which means ‘a bending’. The meaning of rugged or craggy stems from the French word anfractueux.

“Paint me the bold anfractuous rocks Faced by the snarled and yelping seas.”

– T. S. Eliot, Ara vos prec, 1920


Sources:

  • The Oxford English Dictionary Online
  • Oxford Dictionaries Online

Eucatastrophe

This week’s interesting word is said to have been coined by J.R.R. Tolkien, one of my favourite authors.

Woods and fieldsA eucatastrophe is a sudden, favourable resolution of events – or a happy ending. Tolkien described it as “the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears” (1944). There is some debate over the relationship between eucatastrophe and deus ex machina, but the eucatastrophe is a fundamentally optimistic narrative device.

Eucatastrophe was formed by combining eu (a Greek prefix meaning ‘good’) and catastrophe (a change that produces the conclusion of a dramatic work).


Source:

The Oxford English Dictionary (online)

 

Moonball

It’s Wimbledon season at the moment so this week’s interesting word is tennis related. (I was lucky enough to go to Wimbledon this week – it was amazing!)

TennisA moonball is a high lob made when playing tennis. It is often recognisable as a stroke that causes the ball to arc high into the air, often out of camera shot, and slows the pace of the game.

Its origin is simply the combination of ‘moon’ and ‘ball’. The OED lists the first use of moonball as taking place in 1975.

“Inside, on the first Monday of Wimbledon, hopes were as high as a moonball, as green as the immaculate grass.”

– The Independent, 27 June 1995


Source: The Oxford English Dictionary (online)

Smellfungus

I’m not going to pretend I am above using the occasional choice insult. Smellfungus is an old-fashioned term, but I quite like it.

A smellfungus is an overly critical person – someone who finds fault constantly or is seemingly discontented with everything. I imagine that a grumpy, miserable person of this sort would have a facial expression akin to that of smelling something bad.

Eiffel TowerThis week’s interesting word is unusual because etymologists know exactly when it was coined. Tobias Smollett published Travels through France and Italy in 1766; he was rather unpleasant to people he met on his travels and was seemingly unimpressed and contemptuous for most of the journey. His attitude was not well received by some of his peers.

Laurence Sterne, one of those peers, later wrote A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy (1768) in which he created the character of Smelfungus, a satirical representation of Smollett:

“The learned Smelfungus travelled from Boulogne to Paris … but he set out with the spleen and jaundice, and every object he pass’d by was discoloured or distorted.”


Source:

The Oxford English Dictionary (online)

McGuffin

This week’s interesting word is probably familiar to film fans, but you can find a McGuffin in all sorts of narrative works.

DiamondA McGuffin (or MacGuffin) is an object, device or event that has only one true purpose: to set the plot in motion. The audience is usually initially told that the object or thing is extremely important, but the McGuffin does not often have any real importance as the plot develops. The McGuffin is the soon-to-be-stolen diamond or the missing USB drive that serves to start and drive the story.

The precise definition of a McGuffin is widely debated, but the origin is attributed to Alfred Hitchcock. The OED gives the first recorded usage as in 1939:

“In regard to the tune, we have a name in the studio, and we call it the ‘MacGuffin’. It is the mechanical element that usually crops up in any story. In crook stories it is always the necklace and in spy stories it is always the papers. We just try to be a little more original.”

– Alfred Hitchcock, Lecture at Columbia University

Hitchcock suggests he took the surname MacGuffin from a humorous story involving a McGuffin-type incident. The choice of name is not thought to be related to the word guffin, meaning ‘a stupid or clumsy person’.


Source:

  • The Oxford English Dictionary Online

Nycthemeron

This week’s interesting word is a borrowing from Greek. A nycthemeron is a period of twenty-four hours – one day and one night.

It can also be spelt nychthemeron. It is a term that seems to be used predominantly in academic texts, but I think it would fit in nicely in works of a more fantastical nature.

The OED gives the earliest recorded usage as follows:

“Onely the shadowy Vale of the Night will be cast over them once in a Nycthemeron.”

– Henry More, Two choice and useful treatises. 1682

I have taken this explanation of the origin directly from Oxford Dictionaries Online because Greek language is not my speciality:

“From Hellenistic Greek νυχθήμερον period of a day and a night, use as noun of neuter singular of νυχθήμερος lasting for a day and a night from ancient Greek νυκτ-, νύξ night + ἡμέρα day.” (You can view the entry here.)

Day and night

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Won’t

Old writingHave you ever wondered why the contraction of will not is won’t?

Do not becomes don’t, cannot becomes can’t, and shall not becomes shan’t. Won’t does not follow the same pattern.

That is because won’t is actually a contraction of woll not. Woll is an archaic form of will; many Germanic languages have or had a similar word with a similar meaning.

Won’t fought off competition from other forms including wonnot, woonnot and wo’nt to become the standard contraction we use today.

We may no longer use woll, but it is easy to see why English has retained won’t instead of using willn’t or even win’t.


Sources:

Temerarious

Temerarious is a word that is only really at home in literary texts. It means ‘reckless’, ‘rash’ or ‘unreasonably adventurous’.

TigerIf you try to give a tiger a cuddle, you are being temerarious.

You may find in some historical texts that temerarious has been used to mean ‘haphazard’ or ‘happening at random’, but this usage is now obsolete.

The OED gives the first recorded usage as in 1532. But I think this is a good example of temerarious used well:

“The King was one of the first that entred [the breach], choosing rather to be thought temerarious then timorous.”

– John Speed, The history of Great Britaine under the conquests of ye Romans, Saxons, Danes and Normans. 1611

The word comes from the Latin temerarius , where temere means ‘rashly’. (The word temerity, meaning ‘excessive confidence’ or ‘audacity’, also has its roots in temere.) The suffix -ous denotes ‘full of’ or ‘characterised by’. The noun is temerariousness.


Source:

  • The Oxford English Dictionary Online

Noonlight

The weather where I live has been lovely this week. It has inspired me to choose noonlight as this week’s interesting word.

SunlightWords such as daylight, twilight and moonlight are common, but noonlight is fairly rare.

Noonlight is the light of the sun at noon. It is usually the brightest and clearest light of the day.

Noonlight’s origins are simple (‘noon’ plus ‘light’). The OED gives its first use as in 1598, but this usage resonated when I looked out of my window today:

“Through the blue dazzling distance of noon-light

– James Montgomery, Bolehill Trees in The West Indies, and other poems. 1810


Source:

  • The Oxford English Dictionary Online